And on the Seventh Day
Perhaps because the Midwest is known for extremes of behavior, it seems easiest to feel one of two ways in Kansas City — fed up or f’ed up. For example: If you’re a political activist canvassing the area in support of gay marriage, you’re probably fed up most of the time. But if you’re the meth addict in the northern reaches of town, afraid to open the door to the canvasser because you think she’s an alien woman whose vagina will devour your head, then you’re definitely f’ed up.
Or take this hypothetical situation. It’s Sunday night and there’s a concert at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, two bands that you grew up listening to but have never seen live. Excitement abates when you find yourself caught in a solid three-lane mass of cars full of slackers and latecomers who, like you, never thought so many people would risk a Monday-morning hangover to drive out to Bonner Springs to see (for instance) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Black Crowes — most likely, by this time, you’re damn well fed up.
But once you’re inside and you’ve found a spot in view of the stage and acquired a giant, $7.50 beer — and even though you parked and walked for ten minutes and lost some of your group because cell phones don’t work at the Verizon (no, not even Verizon phones) and arrived inside only seconds from seeing reconciled brothers Chris and Rich Robinson on a stage together for the first time since you were an adolescent — by this time, and especially because Tom Petty has launched into his first song (“Listen to Her Heart”) and the middle-aged couple in front of you has offered you a hit off their doobie, well, you invariably decide it’s time to damn the torpedoes and get f’ed up. “She Talks to Angels” is a crappy song anyway — hey, don’t Bogart that joint, old man!
This dialectic, the tension between fed up and f’ed up, is at the heart of many a concert experience. Believe it or not, I truly did make my way out to the far reaches of Wyandotte County to see the aforementioned bands. There, as in the above scenario, I was quickly annoyed by the 17,999 other fans who had beaten the same path as I to see their rock and roll hero du jour. And after a series of events like those in the previous paragraph, I was ready to get down to killing the pain on a last dance with Mary Jane.
When the Heartbreakers took the stage, the first one I looked for was Mike Campbell, whose impeccably neat and gritty guitar — the aural equivalent of single-malt scotch — has always dazzled me. So I was blown over to see a young guy in dreadlocks manning Campbell’s post. Turns out, it was Campbell — who is now the only old white dude in history who has made himself look younger by growing dreads. Miraculous. Also, Tom Petty, though his withered mug looks like Napoleon Dynamite after drinking from the wrong cup in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, has an amazingly still-existent ass, which
he was not afraid to wiggle at the audience as he pranced about like he’d just come off the video shoot for “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” In fact, the whole band looked way healthier than aged rock stars should look. But if it means they’ll live longer and continue to write one excellent song every five years, more power to them.
Soon, the joint had been passed a couple of times, the beer had been drunk, “Won’t Back Down” had been played, and f’ed up was not far away.
Then Petty requested that the house lights be raised so that he could see the audience. His wish was granted, and powerful bulbs spilled light onto the dense crowd, revealing thousands of raised arms. “Oh, my goodness,” Petty said, and you could almost hear him continuing the sentence in his head: my music still hasn’t reached black people.
A few songs later and a little more sober, I figured it was time to beat the masses. After making my way uphill through an audience that was harder to break through than the Chiefs‘ defensive line (not that that’s saying much) and finding my car in the remote and magical Verizon Telephone Pole Orchard, I was rumbling back to Missouri, my sights set on a Sunday-night destination that has a reputation for serving f’ed up rock and roll: Fred P. Ott’s on the Plaza.
Luckily, that night at P. Ott’s, longtime booker, musician and scenester Jay Zastoupil had scheduled the Litigators to play. This lawyer-led band was perfect for soothing my amphitheater-frayed nerves. Redheaded lead singer and lawyer Jeremiah Kidwell is quite possibly the most pure frontman in town — the only instruments he plays are the tambourine and harmonica (if you can call what he does to them playing). The rest of the time, he’s wailing on the microphone and shuffling about the floor like an ecstatic Pentecostal preacher.
It also helps that the Litigators, who hit the floor following the punk-screamin’ girls and guy of the Rather Nots (who, like the Crowes, I missed), have beefed up their sound with the addition of guitarist Brendan Moreland (sideman to Rex Hobart and Andy Graham), whose unrestrained speed-blues riffing fits in perfectly with the Litigators’ bar-brawl sound.
Unfortunately, the crowd was sparse — perhaps owing to reports that KC bars now must close at midnight on Sunday. (Liquor-control board sources tell us that the City Council is in the process of fixing that.) But the few who were there didn’t hesitate to return lunge for lunge with Kidwell and his band, clutching their giant beers ($4 cheaper than at Verizon) as the reckless quintet swung and mauled its instruments, pummeling out a frenzied gospel of the garage.
After the Litigators laid down the law, I wasn’t thinking about how lucky we are in KC not to have to pay big bucks to sweat with the Great Unwashed at the foot of some dinosaur just to see a high-quality rock performance — no, my only thought was How am I gonna make it to Taco Bell? Because after having survived the swing from fed up to f’ed up and back again, the only thing to do was simply to get fed.